A desire to continuously pursue educational opportunities is what drove Angie Pence to MSOE. Pence’s parents, who were immigrants from Europe, were big believers in education and these values instilled during her childhood propelled her to always seek an opportunity to learn more and advance her career.
Pence was born in Chicago but eventually her family moved to Crandon, Wisconsin where she grew up. In 1952, she was hired by General Motors (GM), where she would end up working for 40 years. Throughout her time at GM, Pence was able to work on some incredible projects in quality control.
At the beginning of her career, she worked on Boeing B-52 aircraft guidance systems. She would run tests and show the results to Air Force inspectors in order to sell them the product. In the 1960s, she worked in the systems area on the Apollo space program, and even got to meet President John F. Kennedy and shake his hand when he came to their GM plant.
“Shaking hands with President Kennedy and having him congratulate us on our work was a very cool moment for someone in their 20s. GM motivated us that the Apollo program was to protect our country and beat the Russians to the Moon. They even broadcasted the landing at the plant which was a big moment!”
Pence began work on quality control of catalytic converters in the 1970s and eventually was chosen to lead a Competitive Action Team (CAT) in the 1980s. On this team, she worked to make processes more efficient and more profitable through analyzing the different methods used at the plant. The goal was to cut time and costs as many jobs were being outsourced from the United States.
“It was so interesting and challenging on every job that I worked on. I was devoted to the job and General Motors was a very good place to work. They were very good to us, very understanding and you were proud to be a part of the team.”
In the 1970s, Pence heard about the opportunity to study at MSOE with assistance from GM. She and other female colleagues asked what they would have to do to be part of the program. She eventually joined night classes to earn an associate degree in business management from MSOE. She was one of only two females in her classes at that time. The degree from MSOE helped her compete with her male counterparts at GM.
“MSOE had an excellent reputation and General Motors paid for my tuition if I got a C average or better. They encouraged us to go since we worked closely with engineers and technicians.”
Pence had to not only balance her work at GM and night classes at MSOE, but also raising her two boys who were five and eight years old when she enrolled. She would study in the library and bring her son Ron who would do his homework while she studied for her classes.
“My husband and I worked on opposite shifts, which helped us juggle the responsibilities of raising our two sons Ron and Gale. He felt that my decision to go to college would one day inspire them to do the same.”
Angie Pence graduated in 1979 after taking classes part time for 10 years. She enjoyed learning more about technology and it was an overall exciting but challenging experience throughout her time at MSOE. Pence, now nearly 90 years old, lives in the greater Milwaukee area and her family, especially her son Ron, beam with pride with all she has accomplished.
“My mother never backed down from a challenge,” said Ron. “I consider my mother a pioneer in evolving the role of women in this country. She sacrificed time with her family and for herself but maintained a laser focus on completing the challenges like those provided by MSOE. Despite her busy schedule, I never felt her absence. She found time to bake fresh bread and cook meals for the next week, participate in cooking classes, volunteer at our school and church and take tennis lessons. Her energy and curiosity inspired my and my brother’s drive for success, the importance of education and family teamwork.”